3* Review: The Girlfriend Arrangement – Anna Stone & Hildred Billings

How do you repair the image of a former bad girl turned CEO?

Employ the services of a notable PR specialist, making sure to embark upon a fake romance together, just for good measure.

Having read a few of Anna Stone’s books, although none from Hildred Billings – i truly wanted to enjoy this collaborative offering more than i actually did.

Negatives aside (i’ll come to those later), this is by no means a ‘bad’ book. Stone and Billings give readers a solid concept with two likeable and individually interesting characters.

Parker Black is a former wild child with an historically bad reputation. As the middle child of the wealthiest family in Seattle, Parker’s antics do not slip by unnoticed, by her family or the wider world. In spite of her past, Parker finds herself on the straight and narrow, the CEO and founder of a luxury eponymous lingerie company – until disaster strikes.

In need of assistance to smooth over a past transgression made public, Parker employs the help of professional PR specialist – Julia Conner. In and out of foster care as a child, life has not always been kind to Julia, but order and control have become her closest friends in her quest to traverse the path from her humble beginnings to successful owner of her own PR firm. Rehabilitating Parker Black’s image seems like the opportunity of a lifetime, little does Julia know that the road to professional success for them both, looks a lot like a fake romance and the new title of Parker Black’s ‘girlfriend’.

As individuals Parker and Julia are well developed characters, it is easy for readers to understand, given Parker’s somewhat neglectful upbringing and disapproving mother, her rebellious nature and the need she feels to shield both herself and her sisters from the snarky monster that is their mother. With Julia’s character, years of going it alone and never truly letting her guard down has contributed to her need for control, creating the perfect home for Parker’s power playing disposition both inside and outside of the bedroom.

Whilst i enjoyed the concept of a fake romance plot and i appreciated both Parker and Julia as characters, there was something missing from the progression of their journey which for me resulted in the lack of a deep connection to their story. And in spite of the authors clearly knowing how to write steamy sex scenes (which at times were almost palpable on the page), i never quite found myself whole-heartedly believing in the union of Parker and Julia; in particular their transition from fake romance to IRL girlfriends.

I also really struggled to believe in the U-turn that is Parker’s mother – Vivienne, who from the beginning is portrayed to be an impossible to please, but easy to disappoint monster where Parker is concerned. And yet Vivienne’s personality and behaviour appears to change overnight with no catalyst. It’s clear that this was used as a plot point to encourage Parker to pursue her heart, but it felt totally unbelievable and as a result pulled me out of the story at a time when emotional connection to the characters should have been key.

Despite my enjoyment of this story being less than what i initially expected, there will be a second book in the Black Diamond world; The Executive Liaison, which is due for release in April 2022. Whilst i’m unlikely to re-read The Girlfriend Arrangement in any hurry, i would be willing to see if the second book is an improvement on the first.

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